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suspension system

suspension system

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Published by harley1192
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Published by: harley1192 on Oct 31, 2009
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Camber, Caster and Toe: What Do They Mean?
The three major alignment parameters on a car are toe, camber, and caster. Most enthusiastshave a good understanding of what these settings are and what they involve, but many maynot know why a particular setting is called for, or how it affects performance. Let's take aquick look at this basic aspect of suspension tuning.
When a pair of wheels is set so that their leading edges are pointed slightly towards eachother, the wheel pair is said to have toe-in. If the leading edges point away from each other,the pair is said to have toe-out. The amount of toe can be expressed in degrees as the angle towhich the wheels are out of parallel, or more commonly, as the difference between the track widths as measured at the leading and trailing edges of the tires or wheels. Toe settings affectthree major areas of performance: tire wear, straight-line stability and corner entry handlingcharacteristics.For minimum tire wear and power loss, the wheels on a given axle of a car should pointdirectly ahead when the car is running in a straight line. Excessive toe-in or toe-out causes thetires to scrub, since they are always turned relative to the direction of travel. Too much toe-incauses accelerated wear at the outboard edges of the tires, while too much toe-out causes wear at the inboard edges. So if minimum tire wear and power loss are achieved with zero toe, why have any toe anglesat all? The answer is that toe settings have a major impact on directional stability. Theillustrations at right show the mechanisms involved. With the steering wheel centered, toe-incauses the wheels to tend to roll along paths that intersect each other. Under this condition,the wheels are at odds with each other, and no turn results.When the wheel on one side of the car encounters a disturbance, that wheel is pulled rearwardabout its steering axis. This action also pulls the other wheel in the same steering direction. If it's a minor disturbance, the disturbed wheel will steer only a small amount, perhaps so thatit's rolling straight ahead instead of toed-in slightly. But note that with this slight steeringinput, the rolling paths of the wheels still don't describe a turn. The wheels have absorbed theirregularity without significantly changing the direction of the vehicle. In this way, toe-inenhances straight-line stability.If the car is set up with toe-out, however, the front wheels are aligned so that slightdisturbances cause the wheel pair to assume rolling directions that do describe a turn. Anyminute steering angle beyond the perfectly centered position will cause the inner wheel tosteer in a tighter turn radius than the outer wheel. Thus, the car will always be trying to enter aturn, rather than maintaining a straight line of travel. So it's clear that toe-out encourages theinitiation of a turn, while toe-in discourages it.
With toe-in (left) a deflection of the suspension does not cause the wheels toinitiate a turn as with toe-out (right).
 The toe setting on a particular car becomes a tradeoff between the straight-line stabilityafforded by toe-in and the quick steering response promoted by toe-out. Nobody wants their street car to constantly wander over tar strips-the never-ending steering corrections requiredwould drive anyone batty. But racers are willing to sacrifice a bit of stability on thestraightaway for a sharper turn-in to the corners. So street cars are generally set up with toe-in, while race cars are often set up with toe-out.With four-wheel independent suspension, the toe must also be set at the rear of the car. Toesettings at the rear have essentially the same effect on wear, directional stability and turn-in asthey do on the front. However, it is rare to set up a rear-drive race car toed out in the rear,since doing so causes excessive oversteer, particularly when power is applied. Front-wheel-drive race cars, on the other hand, are often set up with a bit of toe-out, as this induces a bit of oversteer to counteract the greater tendency of front-wheel-drive cars to understeer.Remember also that toe will change slightly from a static situation to a dynamic one. This is ismost noticeable on a front-wheel-drive car or independently-suspended rear-drive car. Whendriving torque is applied to the wheels, they pull themselves forward and try to create toe-in.This is another reason why many front-drivers are set up with toe-out in the front. Likewise,when pushed down the road, a non-driven wheel will tend to toe itself out. This is mostnoticeable in rear-drive cars.The amount of toe-in or toe-out dialed into a given car is dependent on the compliance of thesuspension and the desired handling characteristics. To improve ride quality, street cars areequipped with relatively soft rubber bushings at their suspension links, and thus the linksmove a fair amount when they are loaded. Race cars, in contrast, are fitted with steel spherical bearings or very hard urethane, metal or plastic bushings to provide optimum rigidity andcontrol of suspension links. Thus, a street car requires a greater static toe-in than does a race
car, so as to avoid the condition wherein bushing compliance allows the wheels to assume atoe-out condition.It should be noted that in recent years, designers have been using bushing compliance in streetcars to their advantage. To maximize transient response, it is desirable to use a little toe-in atthe rear to hasten the generation of slip angles and thus cornering forces in the rear tires. Byallowing a bit of compliance in the front lateral links of an A-arm type suspension, the rear axle will toe-in when the car enters a hard corner; on a straightaway where no cornering loadsare present, the bushings remain undistorted and allow the toe to be set to an angle thatenhances tire wear and stability characteristics. Such a design is a type of passive four-wheelsteering system. 
Caster is the angle to which the steering pivot axis is tilted forward or rearward from vertical,as viewed from the side. If the pivot axis is tilted backward (that is, the top pivot is positionedfarther rearward than the bottom pivot), then the caster is positive; if it's tilted forward, thenthe caster is negative.Positive caster tends to straighten the wheel when the vehicle is traveling forward, and thus isused to enhance straight-line stability. The mechanism that causes this tendency is clearlyillustrated by the castering front wheels of a shopping cart (above). The steering axis of ashopping cart wheel is set forward of where the wheel contacts the ground. As the cart is pushed forward, the steering axis pulls the wheel along, and since the wheel drags along theground, it falls directly in line behind the steering axis. The force that causes the wheel tofollow the steering axis is proportional to the distance between the steering axis and thewheel-to-ground contact patch-the greater the distance, the greater the force. This distance isreferred to as "trail."Due to many design considerations, it is desirable to have the steering axis of a car's wheelright at the wheel hub. If the steering axis were to be set vertical with this layout, the axiswould be coincident with the tire contact patch. The trail would be zero, and no casteringwould be generated. The wheel would be essentially free to spin about the patch (actually, thetire itself generates a bit of a castering effect due to a phenomenon known as "pneumatictrail," but this effect is much smaller than that created by mechanical castering, so we'll ignoreit here). Fortunately, it is possible to create castering by tilting the steering axis in the positivedirection. With such an arrangement, the steering axis intersects the ground at a point in frontof the tire contact patch, and thus the same effect as seen in the shopping cart casters isachieved.The tilted steering axis has another important effect on suspension geometry. Since the wheelrotates about a tilted axis, the wheel gains camber as it is turned. This effect is best visualized by imagining the unrealistically extreme case where the steering axis would be horizontal-asthe steering wheel is turned, the road wheel would simply change camber rather thandirection. This effect causes the outside wheel in a turn to gain negative camber, while theinside wheel gains positive camber. These camber changes are generally favorable for cornering, although it is possible to overdo it.Most cars are not particularly sensitive to caster settings. Nevertheless, it is important toensure that the caster is the same on both sides of the car to avoid the tendency to pull to oneside. While greater caster angles serve to improve straight-line stability, they also cause anincrease in steering effort. Three to five degrees of positive caster is the typical range of settings, with lower angles being used on heavier vehicles to keep the steering effortreasonable. 

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